This month marks 25 years since I came to FBC O’Fallon, IL as pastor. I do note that I don’t get called “the young pastor” as much as I did then. I wonder why that is? Hmmm….
While 25 years isn’t nearly as long as some (I have two pastor friends who have been at their churches for more than 50 years), it does cause me to consider some benefits to staying at the same place. I’m not suggesting that all pastors should stay at their churches forever. But I am suggesting that pastors go to a church with the willingness to stay there for the rest of their pastoral ministry should the Lord will.
Here are 5 benefits to a long term pastorate.
1. You can influence your community. Staying a longer times means you have an opportunity to make an impact that couldn’t happen otherwise. You get to know people in your area even outside of your church family. By staying a long time, I’ve had the opportunity to know and have some influence among regional officials, business leaders, fellow pastors and others. I know them and they know me just by virtue of me being around for a while.
2. You can experience real love. It is one thing to be loved for your role; it is another to be loved for being you. I appreciate those who honor the office of the pastor. That is a good thing and I am thankful for those who love and appreciate me for being in that position. But, I am very thankful for people who love me just as me. They love and appreciate me as a person and not just because I fill this position. That is special.
3. You can build trust. The best way to build trust is to be trustworthy. And being trustworthy for a long time builds a lot of trust capital. Building trust means people assume the best in you and not the worst. It means they will listen to your thoughts even when they might not agree. It means they value your opinion because they know you are trying to do the right thing for the sake of the kingdom. They know you aren’t infallible, but they trust that you are trying to point them in the right direction.
4. You can see the long term results of your work. It is a lot of fun to baptize the children of people you baptized years before. It is rewarding to see people you knew as young people in your church now serving as teachers of small groups and deacons and pastors and missionaries. Long term ministry means you get a long term perspective. Staying allows you to see some of the fruit of the trees you planted years before.
5. You can bring stability to your life, family and church. While there are dangers that come with stability, there are benefits as well. I know the patterns that work best for a sustainable ministry in my context. My family got to have some stability in their personal relationships because we stayed. And, our church got the continuity that comes with having the same pastor. In our context (suburbia, a transient military community), that matters a great deal.
Staying at a church a long time doesn’t mean there are never any problems or that ministry is easy. But it does have some advantages that come no other way.
Ministry friends, maybe the Lord will have you move every 2 or 3 years for the rest of your life. But, consider the possibility that he will have you put down some deeper roots and stay in one place for a long time.
Excuse me now as I begin to make some contingency plans for what I will say at my 50th anniversary!